Elle (2016)

Isabelle Huppert in Elle (2016)

Dave author picI like to describe Paul Verhoeven’s Hollywood output – films like Total Recall, Robocop, Showgirls – as ‘smart-dumb’ films: films that embrace the trappings of maximalist mainstream entertainment while injecting insidious satire beneath bombastic exteriors. Elle – Verhoeven’s first film since 2012’s largely-ignored Tricked – flips the script, using the format of a polite French melodrama to offer an entirely impolite twist on the rape-revenge-thriller model.

To synopsise Elle would risk spoiling its many surprises, so I’ll digress; but what makes the film so difficult to concisely describe is its persistent refusal to embrace binaries. The rape-revenge structure, after all, belongs to exploitation films that revel in the simplicity of good/bad, victim/villain dichotomies. Elle deftly sidesteps anything that could be regarded as conventional or moral, ruffling some feathers in the process (Verhoeven remains, now and forever, a provocateur).

While I was thoroughly engrossed by Elle’s unique approach to its subject matter, I remain uncertain as to whether it had anything in particular to say about rape, power and/or gender politics. Perhaps that’s the point – or perhaps I simply need to rewatch. That said, there’s no uncertainty around the quality of Isabelle Huppert’s lead performance, a magnificently arch portrayal that smooths over any thematic ambiguities.

4 stars

One thought on “Elle (2016)

  1. Yup, incredible performance from Huppert. I’m not sure either whether it had anything in particular to say, but it definitely wasn’t your conventional rape revenge story. It was a very interesting look at desire.

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